Funny how every time a new store opens and it’s big, it becomes the latest and greatest iteration of what a retailer is up to as far as store design, visual merchandising and anything else you care to mention.
Address 469 Oxford Street, London W1C
Opened February 1, 2013
Brands Multiple and various
Total floor space 13,500 sq ft
All thoughts of what went before are more or less erased as a headlong rush is made towards that which is deemed newer and better. This isn’t always the case, but it’s the way things tend to work and the new Urban Outfitters, which opened at the western end of Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, serves as a case in point.
In fairness, there is much to commend this one and if it’s novelty that is sought, then no need to look much further - Urban Outfitters has created a new space that really does look different from the other branches in London and which may not be the biggest, but looks to the jaded eye the most interesting.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Urban Outfitters has always been one of the strongest proponents of VM with its ability to make even the most mundane seem fresh and interesting. It does so thanks to an army of artists, some of whom work permanently in a store while others are imported to get a new one up and running. In this store, the skills of the VM people are clear to see. Just inside are 2D cut-outs of ‘pissing dogs’, as they are known, which are cocking their legs on bicycles leaning on a balustrade. This irreverent approach to VM informs much of what’s on view, whether it’s the graffitied pillars and walls, or rails of clothes where the brand names look as if they’ve been hand-stencilled onto the railcards. At every turn there’s something worth looking at.
02 - CONCEPT
Take a perfectly good two-floor retail unit. Beat it up, cut a large hole in the floor to provide views into the basement and make sure nothing looks new. Now scatter some pendant industrial lights around, put in flooring reclaimed from a gym and ensure the air-conditioning is clearly visible. Hey presto! You have a store template for All Saints, Urban Outfitters or a thousand imitators. Yet Urban Outfitters is probably the benchmark, as it’s so good at it. This store is no exception.
03 - SERVICE
Hard to tell what the service at this store might be like as the staff look so very much like the customers. Whether this betrays an innate understanding of what the retailer is all about is a moot point, but when you do need help it is going to be on hand from someone who will probably be rather more modish than you are. The fact that everything looks just so however is testimony to a shop where good service and housekeeping are just a given, in an unobtrusive manner.
04 - PRODUCT
A lot of brands you’ve probably never heard of and a lot of floral prints seem to be the modus operandi for womenswear, while generally lower prices and more mainstream brands seem the order of the day for men. But you don’t come to Urban Outfitters in search of the familiar and this may be why some of the names ring few bells, but it does mean the (mainly female) shoppers are less likely to see their items being worn everywhere. This is a true browsing experience - products aren’t organised (with the exception of shoes) by category.
05 - COMPETITION
For immediate neighbours, this store has Primark, Bershka and Zara on the same side of the road, with New Look across the street. This is an immediate bonus as some of the more street-led chains are nowhere near this store and Selfridges, two minutes walk away, is more about glitz and glamour. The fact is that in product terms there is nothing like this offer on Oxford Street until the other Urban Outfitters branch is reached when the shopper walks east to Oxford Circus. Being a mild one-off works as long as the product is up to scratch - this store is free to function as a destination, rather than one of the herd.
06 - VERDICT A west Oxford Street one-off
When news broke that Urban Outfitters was to open in the Park House development at the west end of Oxford Street it was hard not to wonder why. With stores in Covent Garden, Kensington High Street, Spitalfields and Oxford Circus, was there a need for this? Actually, while there is some crossover between the crowds at Oxford Circus and the masses that head for Primark Marble Arch, there is quite a lot of difference and given that Park House is a good-looking structure, it’s easy to see why it did it. It’s also created real difference from all around it.